The Lunchroom: An Interview with Drew Keegan, Division Director, Fire

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 By Ryan Hayter

The Lunch Room (TLR): You have fire in your title. What exactly is your role?

DK: I’m responsible for overseeing strategy, product development, marketing and sales for stoves, cookware and fuel. I get to use my knowledge of combustion and stoves, and tap into my engineering background on a regular basis.

TLR: How long have you been doing this?

DK: I joined the company 14 years ago as a manufacturing engineer with the goal of moving into R&D. I came in with an engineering background, and a passion for climbing and mountaineering. It’s hard to find engineering jobs in the industry because once you’re in nobody leaves them. The manufacturing opportunity opened the door for me to eventually move into product development and management roles in filters, stoves, snowshoes and climbing gear.

TLR: What are the biggest innovations you’ve seen in your tenure with MSR?

DK The Dragonfly stove was slightly before my time but it was a game changer with its ability to have a liquid fuel stove that was able to simmer. Technology-wise, the current Reactor stove is really advanced. The thing that’s amazing is that it performs in windy conditions. We had to research a lot of technology from outside our industry, like fuel cells, to create a radiant burner that uses 100% primary air. It delivers great heat transfer and wind won’t blow the heat away.

I’m equally as excited about innovation in the cookware line – how everything nests inside itself and is color-coded. We took the idea of an old-school army mess kit and made it work as a lightweight, larger group system for two people with the Trail Lite Duo or a whole family with the Flex 4 System.

TLR: MSR still manufactures the bulk of its products in Seattle. Is that a benefit in your job?

DK: It’s definitely a benefit to be in Seattle. We have an amazing playground all around us that offers just about every type of climate for product testing year round, from wet, corrosive coastal environments to mountains and snow. Local, in-house manufacturing offers a huge advantage. We get to work side-by-side with the engineers who design the specialized machines in the factory and we have direct oversight over quality control. MSR’s factory employees take a lot of pride in their work and when they see something that doesn’t feel right or fit together, they address it with us and we make changes without incurring lots of scrap. On the R&D side it’s great, too, because we have access not only to prototyping equipment but also the experts who will end up designing and building our tooling and machines. We get better prototypes and the operations folks get to learn through the process and provide input on manufacturability.

TLR: What do you like about MSR?

DK: The company is family owned, has good values, and respects its employees and it’s a fun place to work.  It’s really about the people that I get to work with on a daily basis, people who are like minded that I respect and enjoy spending time with at work or outside. Not all companies have that and it makes a huge difference.

I also like the pride that we take in building things here. It’s high quality product that consumers are using to go outside and do something fun and healthy. We get to add to that enjoyment of the outdoors.

TLR: Your job is rare and you’re not planning to leave anytime soon. What is your advice to people who want to break into the industry?

DK: I think that depending on what it is you want to do, go out and do it. Tinker with stuff. If what you love is stoves, skis, bikes, or whatever, stay active in those areas. Know what’s going on in the industry. Be persistent in your job search and reach out and ask for information from people in the industry. Don’t be afraid of an entry-level job and make it well known what your interests are once you’re in to achieve your desired career.

I actually hand-delivered my resume rather than sending it in. This can actually work at smaller companies. Ask for the hiring contact and personally hand it over. In my case the person who walked by the front desk was the HR person hiring for the job and he looked over my resume and gave me a five-minute interview on the spot. It helped me get noticed and showed initiative.